Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Sorceress of the Strand by L T Meade and Robert Eustace

The Sorceress of the Strand features the exploits of Madame Sara, an evil genius and a woman of science in six short stories.

Dixon Druce is the narrator of these stories. In the first story 'Madame Sara', Druce is introduced to Madame Sara, who owns a perfumery shop in Strand, London and is a professional beautifier expert in medicines, surgery and dentistry. Jack Selby's wife Beatrice and her sister Edith are greatly influenced by Madame Sara, though not in need of any of her services, they approach her as a dentist. At breakfast, Edith eats what everybody eats and she drops dead. Post-mortem reveals a strange poison. How did Edith die? How was the poison administered? Eric Vandeleur of the Metropolitan staff investigates.

In the second Story, The Blood-Red Cross, Dixon is a guest at George Rowland's home. Rowland is in possession of a heirloom, a necklace with eighty pearls that a bride to the family always wears on her wedding-day and kept in storage otherwise. George is engaged to Antonia Ripley. Madame Sara and Vandeleur arrive at Rowland's place too. She is after the pearls, how will she get it? Count on Madame Sara to think of something ingenious and scientific. Will Vandeleur stop her?

In 'The Face of the Abbot', Helen Sherwood seeks the help of Dixon with her inheritance, a haunted castle in Portugal. When Madame Sara prevails upon Helen to visit the castle and look into the mystery of the white face that haunts the castle, we know something is going to happen. This is a nice little gothic story. My favourite in this book.

In the Talk of the Town, Professor Piozzi discovers something spectacular but without commercial value and waiting patent. When he is poisoned do we even doubt, who is the poisoner? But what use could Madame Sara make of an invention that is not commercial?

In 'Bloodstone', Dixon is visiting his friend Lady Violet Bouverie, who is in some financial strait that she does not want her husband to know. When their esteemed visitor Mirza Ali Khan's 'Bloodstone' goes missing, suspicion falls on Violet. How will Vandeleur prove her innocence when Dixon is an eyewitness?

In 'The teeth of the Wolf', Dixon and Vandeleur are invited to visit Julia Bensasan, a lady who tames dangerous animals and Madame Sara is her friend. Can Dixon and Vandeleur escape the teeth of the wolf?

I quite like Madame Sara. She is not just a pretty face or an expert in the art of beautification. But an ingenious scientific mind, an expert plastic surgeon, an expert in toxicology, chemicals, impersonation, with a weakness for precious stones and jewels. She comes with clever methods to lure her victims and send them to their maker. Oh yes! An evil genius. I am supposed to hate this evil mastermind. With so many accomplishments how am I supposed to hate her? Clever little stories first serialised in Strand magazine and published as a book in 1903 is available as a free ebook from Manybooks website.

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